Friday, February 17, 2017

Risky Business

Is a life without risk worth living? Looking at the recent “adrenaline-themed” issue of lifestyle magazine Kinfolk, I came across a joint interview between sociologists Stephen Lyng and Jeff Ferrell that resonated with me deeply. In their conversation, the two professors talk the reader through the psychology of risk-taking, which they’ve dubbed “edgework,” taking the word from Hunter S. Thompson’s gonzo journalism classic, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

After meeting as graduate students at the University of Texas at Austin in the mid-1970s, the two sociologists and thrill seekers began finding ways to merge their academic work with daredevil pursuits like skydiving and motorcycle racing. In the 40-odd years since, they’ve managed to develop a renowned social theory surrounding “voluntary risk-taking” activities (everything from acts of physical courage such as BASE-jumping to emotionally and intellectually daring deeds like telling your boss to piss off!).

“We learned about edgework from people doing it—we didn’t so much invent the concept as were given the concept by the people who already engaged in it,” Ferrell explains about looking at the concept of thrill-seeking from an academic perspective. “We realized the better our skills got, the more risks we could take and the more adrenaline we could pump into our systems. Theory was living in our bodies as well as our heads, and those motorcycles and the skydiving were literal embodiments of the theories we were coming up with in the library.”

As the two friends, colleagues, and adrenaline junkies make clear, they see a profound connection between risk and living life to one’s fullest, comparing a life without risk to Disneyland. “I love the idea of the consequential edge—it could be your body and your life on the line, or it could be your career, your reputation or your relationship,” Ferrell says. “If there are no consequences at stake, then there’s no possibility of edgework. . . I’ve always been much more afraid of dying of boredom than dying in a motorcycle wreck or jumping off a building.”

All this risky business could have a biological imperative, too. One of my favorite scientific theories comes from Stephen Jay Gould, who suggested that substantive change always happen at the edges, the margins, the fringes of a species. Gould’s theory of “punctuated equilibrium” explains how evolution doesn’t take place on a predictable, linear path but with unpredictable and dramatic bursts coming from the outer reaches of the species. Not incidentally, the edge also explains why New Zealand is the future.


Wednesday, February 15, 2017

In Praise of Gut Feeling

Mr. Spock vs. Captain Kirk. Sherlock Holmes vs. Dirty Harry. Obama vs. Trump. Readers of this column over the years have seen me write about IQ vs. EQ, strictly rational decision-making vs. the importance of going with one’s gut, especially when it comes to business.

As if by intuition, flipping through a new favorite publication—Kinfolk, a “slow lifestyle magazine” published in Denmark, printed in Portland, Oregon—I came across a book excerpt about this very phenomenon. In Gut Feelings: The Intelligence of the Unconscious (2007, Viking), noted German psychologist Gerd Gigerenzer explains the phenomenon of how “following our hunches can help us make better choices than dutifully weighing up the pros and cons.”

Almost everyone has had this experience, where more thinking and information—about that term paper or final exam, that sales brief, that now-or-never decision about one’s love life—can be crippling. Whatever term you choose—going with one’s gut, following a hunch, using the sixth sense—intuition is the handmaiden of rational thought. Without it, no one would ever fall in love, place a bet on a team or a stock, uproot themselves from their home, or consider leaving one job for the next.

In Gut Feelings, Gigerenzer—whose research Malcolm Gladwell used to fuel his book Blink, about the power of snap decisions—shows how our higher-level intelligence frequently works without our conscious thought. He argues that intuition is more than impulse and caprice, however, but follows its own rationale. “There are two ways to understand the nature of gut feelings,” Gigerenzer writes. “One is derived from logical principles and assumes intuition solves a complex problem with a complex strategy. The other involves psychological principles, which bet on simplicity and take advantage of our evolved brain.”

In my experience intuition honors our unconscious lives, and the complexity of a world that is not always governable by logic alone. Intuition is not antithetical to reason, but another form of reasoning. If ever faced with a dilemma whose pros and cons can’t be worked out on a spreadsheet, my advice? Go with your gut.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Crazies Leading in London

London Stock Exchange – March 10 – I’ll be opening the London Leadership Summit for Conqa, a global consulting, event management and sports entertainment organization that focuses within the elite sports industry. My theme – no surprise – Leadership in a Crazy World. My fellow crazies on the speaking roster are as impressive as they are eclectic.

There’s Paddy Upton, one of the most innovative leaders in world cricket. Paddy is head coach of the Delhi Daredevils in India, and the Sydney Thunder, 2016 league winners. He played a pivotal role in leading the Indian Cricket Team to the #1 test team, as well as the world champions in 2011. As the Performance Director of Cricket South Africa, he was a key player in taking Cricket South Africa to the first ever team to hold the number 1 status in all three formats (T20, 50 over & Test). Paddy will provide insight into how he managed to get weak, demotivated and under-performing teams, and turn them around to world-class high achievers. For him, the success is in the culture and he will explain how to get it right.

Tom Bird is author of the best-selling book "Brilliant Selling" and "The Leader's Guide to Presenting." He has spent his entire career in business and sales. His topic is “Influencing,” which he says is a key skill for today's leaders. A recent study showed that we spend on average 23 minutes of every hour trying to influence, but how long have we spent thinking about how we engage with a skill that we are using almost half of our working day applying?”

Lorne Sulcas is seriously crazy. He spent seven years as a game ranger, tracker, observer and photographer on Africa's Big Cats. From the summit blurb: “In the fiercely competitive world, it's eat or be eaten, and only the very best can stay at the top end of the food chain. As apex predators, Africa's Big Three Cats thrive through strategies and behaviors honed over millennia to get exceptional results in a challenging, changing and brutally competitive environments. Lorne will share the powerful similarities between the real and the ‘concrete’ jungles, and how these potent leadership lessons can help you and your organization thrives in the face of change and competition.”

And Gary Noesner deals with crazies. He is a 30 year veteran and former chief negotiator for the FBI. “In high pressure situations, leaders remain calm while everyone around them descends into panic. Many talk of big match temperament (BMT) as if it were a condition you either have or don't have. But what if it was a learnable skill? Gary will teach you how to remain calm, build influence and get on top in high pressure situations.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Reality Check #2: Where the killing comes from

The motivation behind the presidential order to reject people seeking to enter the US from Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen for 90 days was said to be keeping American people from “bad people with bad intentions.” Here are some facts.

Over half the 911 hijackers came from Saudi Arabia, which was not subject to the travel ban.

The presence of NRA head Wayne LaPierre sitting next to the President at the White House last week gives me little optimism for sanity on American gun safety.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Reality Check #1: Globaloney

America, it is said, is in a post-truthful state of mind. Anything can be asserted as a fact, especially when the rhetoric is designed to present America as a dystopia overrun with Islamic migrants and Chinese imports. Assumptions are rife and perceptions are warped.

In a Washington Post article Is America enriching the world at its own expense? That’s globaloney, Pankaj Ghemawat and Steven Altman of NYU Stern argue that “the United States is far less buffeted by international trade, immigration and other aspects of globalization than many Americans assume; the whole world is far less globalized than people tend to believe. And policies rooted in overestimating globalization — “globaloney” — could harm the people they purport to protect.”

These three charts go some way to debunking the spittle and paranoia about America being seized by foreign nations. “America First” is doing a pretty good job.

Pankaj Ghemawat is director and Steven Altman is executive director of the Center for the Globalization of Education and Management at New York University’s Stern School of Business. Ghemawat’s latest book is “The Laws of Globalization.”



Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Mental Toughness at the Super Bowl

Tom Brady and the New England Patriots just won their most incredible 5th Super Bowl. Every time Brady and coach Bill Belichick are interviewed they talk about mental toughness. And they showed it coming back from a 25 point deficit to win 34-28. There is more to talk about this in the week ahead, but a moment in time reflection needs to be spent on the Atlanta Falcons.

It’s fair to say that the Brady Bunch rolled them back. The Falcons are a very young team and much will be expected of them in 2017-2018. Especially as their coach coach Dan Quinn revealed that he is hugely inspired by New Zealand’s All Blacks and their “extraordinary legacy.”

“I did read an interesting book last year [James Kerr’s Legacy – 15 Lessons in Leadership] about the New Zealand rugby team, the All Blacks, and the culture they’ve had, the winning they’ve had,” Quinn told reporters as the Falcons prepared for the NFL’s championship game against the Patriots.

“Widely known as the All Blacks, New Zealand’s rugby players have established themselves as one of the most successful teams of all time in any sport, and Quinn has long looked at rugby for extra insight into tackling techniques in the National Football League.

“I’ve studied rugby from tackling and it’s been a driving influence on our leverage tackling, using our shoulder tackle, keeping our head out. So, my interest for rugby was already there.

“And then when I found out more about their (New Zealand rugby) culture, what they stood for, how they had long-term success for years and years, that book of legacy was certainly one that left a big impression on me.”

The All Blacks have won nearly 79 per cent of their 552 Test matches since 1903, significantly higher than South Africa, who have the second-best record, winning 65 per cent of their 464 Tests.

“Someday, I will make that trip over there to see them compete and play,” said Quinn. “That’s how strongly I felt about just reading about them. I haven’t had any interaction with them up to now, but it was definitely a book that captured me.”

Make that visit Dan.